By Ustaz Abubakr Saddeeq Muhammad,
It all started with the construction of 94 more prisons in Turkey in the past 6 years or so. This is seen by the Erdogan government as a great achievement. ‘Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül has announced that Turkey, which has been witnessing mass arrests since a failed coup in July 2016, has constructed 94 more prisons over the past five years, with close to 300,000 inmates currently in these prisons’. This increased the number of prisons in the country to 355 housing 232,342 inmates convicted of various crimes ‘and 48,452 others who are jailed pending trial.
‘Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens under the pretext of an anti-coup fight, as a result of which more than 130,000 people were removed from state jobs while in excess of 25,000 others are still in prison and some 600,000 people have been investigated on allegations of terrorism.’
These inmates, including women, are now exposed to strip searches, a fact that the government of Erdogan is contending. This denial ‘prompted hundreds of women to share their experience with sexual violence in Turkish penitentiaries.’
A ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy Özlem Zengin said ‘reports of strip searches and sexual violence in Turkey’s correctional system was unfounded.’
‘Architect Mücella Yapıcı was among the first to respond to Zengin, noting that she herself had been exposed to a strip search while detained after her participation in the 2013 Gezi Park protests.
“Is that so? Do you have no shame at all? You insultingly strip-searched me at 60 years old for defending a park and now I have to expose it to prevent other women from experiencing the same thing…” Yapıcı said in a tweet on Dec. 18, adding that there’s still ongoing prosecution about her abuse.
‘A 26-year-old lawyer, Betül Alpay, also revealed in a video that she was strip-searched upon admission to the Aegean Muğla Prison on Nov. 2, 2017, when she was arrested.
‘Alpay was forced to remove her underwear and headscarf and walk around with only a hospital gown and underwear, all of which she said was highly traumatic for her.
‘The attorney addressed Zengin in her video, saying that she was “among thousands of women” who have been strip-searched in Turkey’s correctional system.
“I personally experienced the strip searches you ignored and denied. I am ashamed to share a faith and a profession with you,” Alpay said.
‘Painter Zehra Doğan also told the news portal Artı Gerçek that she was strip-searched multiple times in different correctional facilities in Turkey’s southeastern Mardin and Diyarbakır.
“There were 52 of us in a ward of the Mardin Prison, and we were all strip-searched,” Doğan said. “Toddlers would be strip-searched when they came in to visit their mother.”
‘While journalist Meltem Oktay said that she was strip-searched by force in Mardin’s Nusaybin Police Station, journalist Şerife Oruç said that she was beaten for resisting a strip search in nearby Batman.’
Under the Shadow of COVID
‘There was no legal basis for strip searches before the pandemic, when a bill was passed to allow them, if the officers have reasonable doubt that someone is hiding contraband on their person, Lawyers for Freedom Association (ÖHD) Yusuf Çakas told Artı Gerçek.
“It’s clearly illegal to implement such a degrading process in law,” Çakas said.
‘The legislation in fact advises that officers try not to touch inmates as much as possible, although women’s experiences have shown that this guideline is often not followed.
“I call on the parliamentary Human Rights Commission to save our country from this shame that’s being reported and is part of the legislation,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Group Deputy Chairman Özgür Özel said.’
‘Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu brought up claims regarding strip searches of female detainees across Turkey, prompting societal outrage and increased awareness around the human rights violations occurring in Turkish prisons.
‘An avid human rights defender, deputy Gergerlioğlu presented nearly 2,000 parliamentary questions regarding human rights violations in Turkey’s correctional system. According to Gergerlioğlu, he didn’t receive responses to any of them.
‘The most recent report of a strip search was from the Aegean province of Uşak where a group of female detainees were searched naked before admission into the facility, but the deputy says that the violations extend to even more sinister actions.
“There are numerous reports of cavity searches. We were also told that children have been abused under the guise of checking their diapers for contraband,” Gergerlioğlu noted.
‘In one incident, a female inmate was forced into a strip search under the disguise of searching the female’s sanitary products for contraband, Gergerlioğlu said, adding that prisons are “messing with women and old ladies’ underwear.”
“2 years ago, I was informed that a woman prisoner had been strip-searched. Even after the prisoner stated that she was having her period, she was forced to get naked. As if that weren’t enough, she was treated abhorrently,” the deputy tweeted on Dec. 15.
The deputy said that the strip searches qualified as sexual violence, adding that some reports even constitute rape.
”Last night, tens of thousands of tweets poured out with hashtag ‘don’t stay silent to strip searches,'” the deputy said during an HDP group meeting on Dec. 16. “It was trending #1 on Twitter in Turkey and #14 in the world. We will end this strip search vileness.”